Ten social media disasters of 2015

Cringeworthy status updates, ill-advised photos and disastrous hashtags

(Image credit: DAMIEN MEYER/AFP/Getty Images)

Harnessed in the right way, social media can draw global attention on an unprecedented scale to raise awareness of issues, spread a message or even turn an unknown into an international celebrity in a matter of hours.

But with great power comes great responsibility, and thoughtless use of social media can backfire with devastating force. One careless status update or poorly worded hashtag can lead to ridicule, condemnation, and fame for all the wrong reasons – as proved by these ten social media disasters of 2015.

1. Donald Trump supports the troops

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US Republican presidential candidate Trump gave his opponents cause for glee when he accidentally appeared to endorse Nazi soldiers. The picture he used to accompany his 'Make America Great Again' slogan on Twitter featured marching troops who, on closer inspection, turned out to be members of the notorious Waffen SS. Not ideal for a man whose enemies frequently describe him as a fascist.

2. Louise Mensch's not-so-cunning plan

Former Tory MP Mensch tweeted a picture of Twitter's auto-complete search feature as proof that Jeremy Corbyn's supporters were making anti-Semitic comments to Labour rival Liz Kendall. Unfortunately, canny Twitter users pointed out that the auto-complete actually shows the user's own previous searches – which they demonstrated by posting their own pictures of auto-complete suggestions such as 'Louise Mensch doesn't get Twitter'.

3. Mia Farrow searches Google for her 'black children'

Mia Farrow has 15 children, 11 of them adopted, so it would be understandable if one of them occasionally slipped her mind. However, Twitter users were amused when the 69-year-old actress posted a picture of her daughter Quincy screenshotted from her phone – with the search term 'Mia Farrow and her black children' clearly visible above it. Farrow's follow-up tweets appeared to blame the faux pas on an assistant.

4. (Don't) ask EL James

In a classic example of social media marketing gone awry, an official Twitter Q&A session with Fifty Shades of Grey author EL James quickly drifted away from its promotional roots when jokesters hijacked the #askeljames hashtag. The hashtag was soon flooded with tongue-in-cheek questions satirising everything from James' questionable literary merit to her depiction of BDSM relationships.

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5. "I'm Hard Left" tickles Tories

Jeremy Corbyn's meteoric rise from eccentric backbencher to Labour leadership favourite reinvigorated the long-marginalised 'old Labour' left. Corbynistas took to Twitter to reclaim the 'hard-left' label often used with contempt by their detractors. Unfortunately, their #ImHardLeftBecause campaign left them open to mockery, as Tories helpfully filled in the slogan with endings of their own.

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6. Merseyside Police rape 'joke'

When Everton thrashed Sunderland 6-2, one Twitter user celebrated with a tasteless tweet to Merseyside Police to report "an incident of rape that occurred at Goodison Park, Liverpool, on November 1st at 3:00". Disastrously, Merseyside Police decided to play along, replying with a joke about Sunderland getting "caught with their pants down". Outrage followed, and the tweets were swiftly pulled and replaced with a grovelling apology.

7. 'Painkillers + tweeting does not equal anything good'

The Kardashians have built a good portion of their huge global following through their near-constant activity on social media. However, Khloe Kardashian should have considered logging off instead of popping prescription pills and hurling expletives at Twitter users who defended her estranged husband, Lamar Odom. Finally, the 31-year-old reality star called it a night: "Signing off.... Antibiotics +painkillers + tweeting does not equal anything good lol". Indeed.

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8. Long live the Queen

What could be more of a scoop than breaking the news of the Queen's death? Unfortunately for BBC journalist Ahmen Khawaja – whose shocking tweet was picked up by news outlets around the world – it wasn't actually true. An embarrassed Khawaja first claimed she had been pranked after leaving her phone unattended, then BBC bosses said the error occurred during a practice drill. Whatever the truth, the bottom line is that Khawaja hasn't tweeted since.

9. "No Muslims Allowed"

A beauty salon owner caused a stir when she announced on Facebook that Muslims were no longer welcome in her Bicester salon, saying it was time to "put my country first". Facebook users got their own back, however, bombarding the salon's page with fake reviews. One warned: "After having my fake tan and emerging from the room with a towel wrapped around my head, I was mistaken for an Islamic and ejected from the premises."

10. Taxi for the social media editor!

Taxi firms in the Australian state of Victoria decided to drum up some positive attention on social media by urging customers to use the hashtag #YourTaxis to describe their experience. Unfortunately, the campaign backfired in spectacular style, with Twitter users seizing on the hashtag to complain about rude drivers, extortionate fares and even sexual assault. Almost a month later, irate customers are still reporting their grievances using the hashtag, and the agency paid to organise the campaign has, unsurprisingly, been sacked.

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